Action needed as Wales cancer services struggle

Cancer Research UK

An ambitious new plan for cancer services in Wales is urgently needed to cope with growing numbers of people being diagnosed with the disease, Cancer Research UK has warned today (Thursday).

"Now is the time for the Welsh Government to use the new cancer strategy to set bold ambitions and priorities, supported by investment and leadership." - Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK

A comprehensive report for Cancer Research UK has concluded that some people in Wales are waiting too long for test results which determine whether they have cancer.

The ‘Where next for cancer services in Wales?’ report, published today, also found other significant gaps in services.

Cancer Research UK is now calling for the Welsh Government to build on the foundations of its previous cancer plan and set out its priorities for how it is going to target resources to improve patient care and cope with the increasing demand.

By developing a brand new cancer strategy, and underpinning it with investment, the Welsh Government has a key opportunity to deliver better care for patients in Wales.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: "This report paints a worrying picture, from cancer experts, of NHS cancer services in Wales reaching a tipping point. Whilst there have been notable improvements in cancer care, with more people surviving than ever before, we are a long way from where we should be.

“One in two people will develop cancer at some point in their lives. We will be diagnosing more people, treating more people and helping more people recover from cancer in coming years. We’re better informed than ever about how best to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease, and how to deliver better patient experience and quality of life.

“We have an opportunity to save thousands of lives from cancer every year. Now is the time for the Welsh Government to use the new cancer strategy to set bold ambitions and priorities, supported by investment and leadership."​

In their analysis, researchers reported that cancer treatment waiting times – a barometer for how well cancer services are performing and the pressure they are under – have been repeatedly missed in Wales. This is a critical issue that requires urgent attention.

When scrutinising cancer services in Wales, Cancer Research UK researchers also found that patients are waiting too long for diagnostic tests after being referred by their GP.

Through interviewing experts in the service they went on to recommend an immediate review of diagnostic services to ensure patients with cancer are diagnosed early, at a stage when treatment is more likely to be successful.

Researchers also discovered that the availability of modern radiotherapy treatment is patchy and access is often determined by where a patient lives in Wales.

Modern radiotherapy is important because it plays a major role in curing cancer and new technology is making this treatment even more effective.

However, a national approach to the way radiotherapy services are planned and coordinated across Wales is needed, particularly so patients in rural areas don’t miss out.

Around 19,000 people every year are diagnosed with cancer in Wales, a rise of around 14 per cent in the decade up to 2014.

Tom Crosby, clinical director of the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff, said: "This is a very balanced report, which highlights some of the successes in the delivery of high quality cancer care in Wales but also the challenges yet to be addressed.

“Most of all it describes the huge opportunities we have to improve survival by developing a clinically led, nationally agreed strategy.

“We will need to better raise awareness of cancer, diagnose it earlier, ensure timely access to effective treatment and even better support for patients through and beyond that treatment. By taking this opportunity we can transform patient outcomes and experience."

ENDS

For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

The report summary is also available in the Welsh language here: www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/cancer_services_in_wales_welsh_summary.pdf

The “Where next for cancer services in Wales?” report was delivered by the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow. It was commissioned by Cancer Research UK as part of a body of work to explore the state of cancer services in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Our findings for Scotland and Northern Ireland will be published in the months to come.

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